Opportunity, not limitation

Autistic dad shows off the mobility device he created for his daughter

By George Slaughter, News Editor
Posted 4/27/22

Necessity can be the mother of invention. Just ask Katy resident Mike Sheiman.

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Opportunity, not limitation

Autistic dad shows off the mobility device he created for his daughter


Necessity can be the mother of invention. Just ask Katy resident Mike Sheiman.

A couple of years ago, Sheiman’s daughter suffered a gymnastics injury. He said his daughter could barely move her arms or legs at the time. His daughter, today 10 years old, has made a full recovery from her injuries. But getting her to full mobility would take some work.

“I wanted to make a machine that made you feel fully mobile and required almost no movement to operate,” Sheiman said. “I wanted to get her outside and playing as soon as possible.”

So Sheiman, an autism patient who is a software engineer at the University of Houston-Downtown, went to work. He took a two-wheel hoverboard and made some modifications. These modifications included a vertical seat, a training wheel for vehicular stability, and two handle bars that operate separately for control.

“The first version took about a week and a half, and a lot of falls,” Sheiman said.

While his daughter is fully recovered today, Sheiman said she continues to use the device, and a couple of her friends have also learned how to use it.

“It’s by no means impossible to learn,” Sheiman said, adding that he himself has used it, but he must be careful because the weight limit is 60 lbs. and he weighs more than that as an adult.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, autistic patients often have problems with social communication and interaction, and might have restricted or repetitive behaviors or interests as a result. Autistic patients may also have different ways of learning, moving, or paying attention. Yet as Sheiman and others have shown, autism can be an opportunity and not a restriction. April is Autism Awareness Month.

Recently, Sheiman presented his idea at the Reactor Room, an event sponsored by Spectrum Fusion, a nonprofit organization. Heidi Ham is founder and CEO of the organization. She said Spectrum Fusion’s goal is to change the conversation so people can see autism through a lens of opportunity and possibilities.

“We empower autistic adults to reach their full potential,” Ham said. “They have ideas, but cannot find a way to find opportunities to have life-changing outcomes. There’s a dark side, with more suicides due to unemployment, underemployment, and living on the fringes of society. But there’s so much they can offer.”

The Reactor Room is an example of this. Ham said there have been five such events, and each one is better than the last. She said the events have been held at the Rice University Biosciences Research Center Auditorium for the past four years.

Ham said she and Sheiman worked together for over a year to prepare him for the presentation, where he pitched his ideas.

“We had to navigate all the patents around the hoverboard,” Ham said.

Ham said presenting ideas in the Reactor Room enables the sharing of ideas in a safe space.

“Sometimes they’re exploited,” Ham said. “Sometimes people steal their ideas. They do not always get a platform. We provide this opportunity for them to show the world that they have ideas that contribute to society.”

As part of the preparation, Ham has tried Sheiman’s device.

“For the first time, I was going real fast, and he said to slow down,” Ham said. “He installed a safety feature, which he calls Heidi safety feature.”

Sheiman described the experience of presenting at the Reactor Room was fascinating.

“I showed my daughter riding it,” Sheiman said. “I spent a lot of time clarifying the difference between this and the rest of the market. This allows you to operate without using your feet. The freedom of movement is like the difference between a skateboard versus a mobility chair. You can move in more different ways.”

As far as his autism goes, Sheiman said it had more to do with how other people dealt with him and other autism patients.

“It is a lot of conflict,” Sheiman said. “People ask you, didn’t you mean to do this? No, I meant to do it differently. Just the way I think in general, it doesn’t come from the same angle. I’d be really bored if I didn’t have it. When it comes down to it, the most obvious symptom of it is how your body moves and voice and tone are completely different. If you see somebody with autism, you can see how they move, how they think, how he or she has it. People look at you and think, you’re not of the same tribe. People don’t know where it comes from and it freaks people out.”

autism, Autism Awareness Month, Spectrum Fusion